It’s the secret to Jewish success and survival.
Sefer BaMidbar (aka the Book of Numbers) begins with another census, which, Rashi explains, demonstrates Hashem’s great love for us. Just as a person constantly counts money because every dollar is so precious, Hashem always wants to know the exact number of Jewish people in His “account.”
Being counted makes us special in another way, as well. In halachic terminology, something that is carefully counted or measured is called davar she’b’minyan. An item that achieves this status is considered very important and continues to stand out, even if dropped into a mixture 1,000 times its size. In short, it can never become bateil, nullified (Beitzah 3b; Yoreh Dei’ah 110:1).
The Chidushei HaRim pointed out that, by counting us often, Hashem has given us the special status of davar she’b’minyan. This means that no matter how small the Jewish nation is, compared to the world’s population at large, we will never become bateil. Hashem’s counting gives us tremendous importance, which would explain how, despite being less than one percent of the global population, the Jewish people have always managed to stand out.
This supernatural prominence is evident in the realms of both wild success and irrational persecution. In spite of miniscule numbers, Jewish people over the centuries have contributed disproportionately to every discipline, including economics, technology, art, and social advancements. At the same time, Yidden have been uniquely targeted for oppression over the millennia by a host of nations for wide-ranging – and often contradictory – reasons: Jews are too rich; Jews are too poor; Jews are too powerful; Jews are too parasitic; Jews are too sick; Jews are too healthy; etc. The only commonality among anti-Semitism, then, is that the Jewish nation is singled out, incapable of becoming bateil, assimilated.
Even before an actual nation was formed, animosity between Yaakov and Eisav was destined to become a reality (Rashi, B’reishis 33:4). This tension became ubiquitous and permanent when we received the Torah at Har Sinai, the primal moment of Jewish distinctiveness. Indeed, Chazal explain, the very name “Sinai” comes from the word sin’ah (hatred), as Hashem’s display of preference and affection for B’nei Yisrael ignited the eternal hostility of the other nations (Shabbos 89b).
As we celebrate the past and ongoing Kabbalas HaTorah on Shavuos, let us also take a moment to reflect and appreciate the distinction that comes with being chosen at Sinai. With loving enumeration, Hashem has ensured that we will endure and thrive amongst the multitudes of other nations. Regardless of status, location, and host ideology, the one constant across generations and continents is that the Jewish people have never been able to fully disappear into their surroundings. (No, wearing baseball caps does not seem to have done the trick.) In turn, Hashem expects us to remain prominent and active in the world, spreading G-dliness, morality, and kindness to the rest of the population. We must not falter in this mission; Hashem is counting on us!